February 15th is a significant day in Singapore’s history, for it marks the fall of the then British colony and the subsequent start of the Japanese Occupation. Much has been written about “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”, with stories of hardship told and retold through a river of memoirs and memorials.

Yet, there is little literature available about the local sporting landscape during those three and a half years(1942 - 1945). What role did sport play for the dispirited survivors of a renamed isle – Syonan-to, meaning Light of the South Island?

In Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, the Sport in Syonan digital exhibition presents readers with interesting insights adapted from the book ‘Sport in Singapore: The Colonial Legacy’ by sportsman and academic, Dr Nick Aplin (Straits Times Press, 2019), over the course of 12 chapters.

In what way did sport happen for sportsmen and sportswomen in deprived conditions? How did the new masters deal with sport, and could sport triumph over despair in the darkest hours? Read on to find out!

Chapter Links:

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Change of Sporting Identity
Chapter 3: Sport as a Political Tool
Chapter 4: Syonan Sports Association
Chapter 5: Reintroduction of Sport and Games
Chapter 6: First Anniversary of Occupation and Hockey Cup
Chapter 7: Syonan Goodwill Tour to Malaya
Chapter 8: War Heroes and Rise of a Sporting Hero - Chia Boon Leong
Chapter 9: Boxing, Bushido, and Bahau
Chapter 10: Sport in Changi PoW Camp
Chapter 11: The Auxiliary Labour Corps and End of Occupation
Chapter 12: Conclusion

Full Exhibition

▶ Download all Chapters 1 to 12 (PDF): Sport in Syonan: Triumph Over Despair (Digital Exhibition 2022)


Singapore's first Olympian dates back to 1948, when Lloyd Valberg took to the stage at London as the then colony's sole representative. While he only managed 14th place then, the Singapore story didn't end there. 68 years later, his grand-nephew would go all the way and become Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist. Way to keep it in the family!

Find out more interesting nuggets of Singapore sporting history in the accompanying talk here!